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I recently saw Isaac Arthur video part of the upward bound serious about tether rings. There he mentioned a project known as the Atlantis project which is trying to get a tethered ring built in real life since it relies upon already existing technologies.

What happened to the project? Is it still running? Does this project have anything which might make it actually succeed? Is this project just another of many great things which get promised, but never get built due to a lack of funding or something else.

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    $\begingroup$ what do you mean what happened? It's a small group of people with, per the website, 20 satisfied clients. They produce papers and hype. Somebody else would produce the megaprojects they propose $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Apr 1 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ @ErinAnne When I asked what happened, I meant if there has been any serious action, like maybe major investments or big companies supporting them, etc.. $\endgroup$ Apr 1 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ @TheRocketfan I think OrganicMarble's point is that, until there's several questions, there's no need to use tags to categorize it. (I've personally given up on tag accuracy, though. People use them incorrectly all the time, so relying on text search seems just as good) $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Apr 1 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ I have...concerns about this question. I don't know if we should encourage this kind of promotion on the site, even if it's on-topic and the answer has the appropriate disclaimer. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Apr 1 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ @phil1008 no, I raised a concern about promotion because I don't want StackExchange to be a conduit for people to spam their space ideas for Search Engine Optimization points to con investors out of money. Whether or not you're doing that is up in the air for me, but I sense a line we're crossing. It is, however, exactly what I'd expect for your organization to have not checked what their web page says. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Apr 2 at 4:24

2 Answers 2

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In terms the headline question, 'The Atlantis Project' status is answered by Phil1008.

The body question 'Does this project have anything which might make it actually succeed?' things are more ambiguous. The physics in the posted study are not automatically impossible. They do however rely on a number of assumptions that get complicated as things are studied in more detail.

Many of them stem from the fact the proposal is an active structure, require constant operation to keep it stable. This means that not only must it be able to exist in steady state, it must be able to launched and landed. The last one is important since while in use this is millions of tonnes rotating structure with tethers running for hundreds of km either side . Failure will be a high energy event risking everything under a wide swath so an exit plan is required - See 'Disaster Scenario' section which states that 'possibly' most of the high energy rotating mass will burn up rather than bombarding the ground beneath the ring while the tethers thrash across the surface.

This means that not only must the design work, it must work under adverse circumstances and allow servicing. Keeping the vacuum tubes at vacuum, the maglev electronics running and the stabilizing thrusters operating at an altitude requiring at least a mask and possibly a pressure suit will be a substantial and complex to model ongoing cost, and require lots of duplication/redundancy.

The political aspect is also mentioned in the study, and focused on terrorism, and assumes lethal defense of the tether points is politically feasible. Noting active shooting wars across a range of latitudes in 2024, and proven capability of humans to use threat of disaster as leverage would suggest organized government attacks would have to be assumed. This would probably require some sort of global military force funded out of system operating costs, needing capability to actively defend completely immobile sites across the globe, which has proven repeatedly to be problematic and expensive.

It is proposed to build and possibly operate the system at sea*, which avoids some political issues but reduces usefulness for transportation and leaves the deeply non trivial problem of building and anchoring the structure in deep, often stormy and possible iceberg occupied water. Given the time taken to build the structure and fact it is immobile while doing so the launch structure would need to assume at least one rogue wave hit of twenty meters or more. This would probably mean some sort of circum global barge capable of handling substantial wave height would be required to assemble the ring system on. This barge would also seem to be a substantial hazard to navigation while in use and once work was complete.

Taken together it would suggest that no private company would want to take on this sort of project even if likely to be wildly profitable, since it would be assuming liability for a potentially global accident, while lacking many of the tools to avoid one (land seizure and lethal force). Even a government would be cautious since even just construction of the system would be globally disruptive and require committing on very long time scales. The only viable sponsoring body would appear to be one able to seize and hold 100% of the territory on which the ring would be built and operate, and tightly control access once construction is complete. This (fortunately?) does not exist in 2024.

*Building an spinning ring structure across land would appear to involve deeply non trivial construction work to produce a suitably flat track through mountains etc, otherwise during startup complex things happen as the spinning mass traverse peaks and valleys.

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  • $\begingroup$ A very insightful answer! RE: the circum global barge, this topic wasn't covered in the paper you read and referenced, but the current thinking is that it would be an underwater construction casing deep enough to be below the waves and deep enough for ships to pass over. It would only be a navigational nuisance for a few days while the ring is being surfaced and then hoisted into the sky. Nevertheless, your answer makes some terrific points - thanks! $\endgroup$
    – phil1008
    Apr 2 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ @phil1008. It is unfortunate that the front running issues here are about humans rather than technology. Recent events with the ship hitting the bridge in Baltimore are also informative, with project needing to handle similar events to the anchor points, both accidental and deliberate. Would also expect any land sections to face lots of issues akin to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holdout_(real_estate) that might substantially bump up costs, especially if local legal system uncooperative to the project. $\endgroup$ Apr 3 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ Or, maybe not so unfortunate (glass half full perspective). If the front-running issues are human issues like right-of-way and anthropic resilience, it just might be possible to find a way forward. If the front-running issues were the fundamental limits of known physics, material science, or chemistry, I think that would be less fortunate. $\endgroup$
    – phil1008
    Apr 3 at 22:55
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Ok, full disclosure - I have an interest in promoting the Tethered Ring and other concepts under The Atlantis Project umbrella. So, my answer is likely to be influenced by personal bias. That said - I welcome other people's points of view and strongly encourage people to engage in critical thinking.

The Atlantis Project is focused on figuring out what ambitions human civilization might achieve with materials and engineering that we have already mastered. It also considers how the problems ahead of us are evolving. For example, our ambitions around establishing a permanent presence on another planetary body may change the size and nature of the market for launch services. The cost of preserving the environment (both on Earth and in space) may affect the operating cost of chemical-rocket-based launch systems. The Tethered Ring specifically is posited as a potential solution to some of the challenges humanity will face moving forward, as opposed to just "yesterday's problems".

That said, the Tethered Ring also attempts to address some of the challenges associated with the prior art, such as the Lofstrom Loop - specifically the difficulty of confining the mass stream through its tight corners, the need for its mass stream to have expansion joints, and its single-purpose nature (that is, just launch) which makes it harder for the business case to pencil out.

The Lofstrom Loop, in turn, was a more detailed and thoughtful engineering proposal concerning the broader concept of a Partial Orbital Ring, and the Partial Orbital Ring was an attempt to reduce the high capital cost of a Full Orbital Ring. The Full Orbital Ring was conceived as a solution to the problem of there being no material with a high enough specific strength to make a space elevator.

Each of these ideas examined the prior art, identified problems, and attempted to improve upon it.

The Tethered Ring prioritizes the metric of high return on investment (ROI) over low capital cost. This has led to it being much larger than the Lofstrom Loop, but because it supports multiple ways of generating revenue, it is a better proposal on the ROI metric.

The additional business models include long-haul, high-speed terrestrial transportation, and ring-mounted-solar energy generation. The added value propositions not only help to improve overall ROI, they also de-risk the economic proposition - which is an important consideration for any mega project.

Several things have happened since the Isaac Arthur video (released on Sept 8th, 2022) that you mentioned.

The long-haul, high-speed terrestrial transportation system was improved in 2022 and early 2023. Cost-per-available-seat-kilometer was worked out and shown to be cheaper than airlines. This work, along with a lot of the math on the Tethered Ring, was published in a 19-page 2023 IEEE Aerospace paper. The paper also covered launch and some geopolitical topics.

The ring-mounted-solar concept was modeled and presented at ISDC2023. The model compares ring-mounted-solar to terrestrial solar and space-based solar using Sankey charts. (Note: The model is accessible online and it allows the user to input their own assumptions if they don't like the default values. It is also available on GitHub.)

Isaac Arthur released another video entitled "Interplanetary Infrastructure" on Sept 14th, 2023 that reveals a rendering of a novel type of variable-pitch twin-screw mass driver that we claim will solve the switching problem (see ~20:30 mark).

This year, on Jan 9th, Graviton Media also released a fast-paced explainer video on the Tethered Ring that despite being only 11 minutes long, does not skimp on technical details.

The Tethered Ring and the systems that it supports are "being built" within a Digital Twin. The digital twin captures the math and renders the result as a model that the user can interact with. The creation and maintenance of the model help verify the math within it.

For example, in early 2024, volunteer work done by a shader expert improved the accuracy with which the tethers are modeled, 3D rendered, and cost-estimated. enter image description here (ref)

No attempt has been made yet to directly seek funding to build a Tethered Ring, just as SpaceX has not attempted (as far as I know) to directly fund a self-sustaining city on Mars. The focus has instead been to develop "stepping-stone" concepts that have the potential to achieve profitability in shorter time frames.

Does this project have anything which might make it actually succeed?

Yes, the project is sticking to the principle of using only materials and engineering know-how that humanity has already mastered. It's "displaying the math on its t-shirt" so to speak, by making the digital twin available for inspection on GitHub and in peer-reviewed papers. It demonstrates, through mathematical analysis, that a tethered ring is both technically and economically feasible. That is, it doesn't violate any of the rules of engineering and materials science and it will generate sufficient revenue to service the debt that must be incurred to build it. And finally, some great people with solid skills have been pitching in to help move things forward.

In the short term, the problem is simply that we need more influential people with great qualifications to examine the evidence, assess it, and, hopefully, arrive at similar conclusions. I expect that this will help uncover areas where more in-depth investigations are needed. Hopefully, more people and their institutions will recognize the potential of the approach and pitch in to help with those investigations.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thx phil, incredibly succinct overview of options for taking the next step in our incredible journey: getting some infrastructure access to our beautiful solar system and the stars twinkling beyond! Anybody with any engineering sense should instantly realize that rockets are already archaic like using a steam engine to drive to town. SpaceX launch is the most polluting activity (CH4 propellant) possible! Still to get my 2 cents in: why build a bike when you can have a 747 for the same price? All in for Orbital Rings! No territorial issue in LEO and only the elevator shafts need be protected. $\endgroup$
    – C. Burns
    Apr 17 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ To address the 'ROI' component: simple...whoever wants Orbital Ring elevator access should (and have every incentive to) finance a full-scale top-level-elite engineering mock-up of our future OR network. Detailed and multi-government sanctionned work along these lines wil inevitably demonstrate the enormous benefits of universal free (or very cheap=maintenance costs) solar power, instant point to point world cargo (with zero pollution ring-side) not to mention the possiblities of lifting any pollution oriented industries (like foundries) out of the atmosphere. $\endgroup$
    – C. Burns
    Apr 17 at 11:18

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